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Oliver Ullrich – nginious!

Nginious! Oliver Ullrich interview
Nginious! Oliver Ullrich interview 1
Written by Gin Foundry

Nginious! is a Swiss brand with a family of strange and delicious gins to their name. This year, the brand added to its portfolio with the enigmatic Smoked & Salted Gin, released personalised Magnum sized bottles and got involved in a spot of crowdsourcing. We spoke to co-founder Oliver to get the details on a very busy 2016.

You’ve recently launched a crowd funding campaign for the construction of your Liquid Spirit Distillery. How has it been going?

We’ve had a great response to the crowd funding campaign, especially from the Swiss, UK and Belgian markets, which is great. People seem really interested in supporting independent companies at the moment, and the variety of what we offer (from tastings, events, gift sets and even creating your own custom batch of Gin) really seems to be going down well. We think that the run up to Christmas will see a lot more Magnums sold, as their individuality makes them ideal Christmas presents.

It’s an exciting move, what triggered the desire to get your own space? And what about the distillery build – are you starting already or do you have to wait until the crowd funding finishes? The building itself looks to be in construction…

nginious! is in its third year now, so we believe it really is time to give our brand a home. We’ve always prided ourselves on being unique, so we chose to build the first ever distillery in the city of Basel, Switzerland. The space is incredible and will allow us to be independent and creative, as well as being able to share what we do with others through gin tastings and events. It’s a place for us to develop and expand nginious! – You’ve seen what we’ve come up with so far, imagine what the future could hold!

The site at the moment is transforming from an ancient mill that overlooks Switzerland, France and Germany. We are right on the top floor! Whilst it is still a construction site, many of the other rooms in the building are occupied with other creative businesses, such as theatre designers, 3D printers, coffee roasters… the place is buzzing with creativity. We’ve laid the foundations and have already moved in some furniture, so yes we are already starting. The crowd funding campaign is helping us to run the business whilst we build the distillery, it will go ahead no matter what, but it is just easing the pressure at the moment.

We saw personalised Magnum sized gin bottles of nginious!, could you tell us more about those?

This really is the centrepiece of our crowd funding campaign, and its going down a storm. We have created a Magnum sized bottle, which mirrors the design of the nginious! range. It’s actually based on the design of a hipflask (we know, a 1.5l hipflask is pretty impressive, but can you imagine any gin fans complaining?!). The gin inside the bottle will be totally unique, a brand new recipe, and we will only produce 3000 bottles. It will be the first ever production from the first ever distillery in the City of Basel. The special part about the bottle is that we are going to insert a copper plate onto them: when you order a bottle you choose a number between 0-3000, and this number, along with your chosen name will be hand engraved onto the copper plate! Not only that, but your name and number will then be engraved on the still itself, meaning that you are an eternal part of nginious!’s history. We are having a lot of fun with it at the moment, as every order that comes in we hand write a certificate and stamp it with a special nginious! wax seal. Like everything we do it is done by hand, and is very personal.

We’ve been eagerly following the ideas about rewards and what people can “buy into”and The Distiller’s Cut caught our attention. Have you started work on the gin that will fill the Magnum bottles? Any clues on the line up?

The Distiller’s Cut will be the first ever production from the new distillery. We don’t want to give too much away at the moment, but we can tell you that it will be a completely new recipe and a totally new style of gin…

Talking of creative releases, when did the idea of Smoked & Salted come and how long did it take to develop?

nginious! started with the Swiss Blended Gin, which then led onto the Cocchi Vermouth Cask Finished Gin. These arguably have quite a herbal, masculine note, so we wanted to created something feminine, fruity and floral, and along came the Summer Gin. Well, you cannot create a Summer Gin without wanting to create a winter gin, so that’s when the seed was planted. The idea was to create a winter edition that didn’t scream Christmas cliché coated in cinnamon.

So now to think of a unique recipe; this bit actually took a lot longer than normal, close to three months actually, because to produce a winter edition, you need to create it in the summer, and the summer of 2015 was the hottest summer in Switzerland for years. Unlike wistfully fantasising of lounging pool days when you are in subzero temperatures, it is hard to think of roaring fires and snow when you are in sweltering +35 degree heat everyday! However, we managed in the end.

Being based in Switzerland, a symbol of winter is the chestnut, roasted and smoked. Botanical and blend one sorted: chestnuts, to give the gin its structure. Now it is important that it is still a gin, so blend two is easy: Juniper. Keeping it classical the third blend contains botanicals such as bitter oranges, coriander and ginger, along with the slightly more exotic quinces. It was important for us that the smoke acts as a botanical, not dominating the flavour but integrating into the composition. This recipe was tried and tested, and we thought we’d developed the perfect smoky gin. However, by chance when we left the smoke house one afternoon, laying on the table was a rare smoked stone salt from the Swiss Alps, which we just knew we had to add…and so the concept of a smoked AND salted gin came about and turned into a reality!

We love the Smoked and Salted, but it’s arguably quite a departure from a “classic” gin taste. Do you find this sort of exploration interesting and how do judge what’s right and still first and foremost a gin?

Actually, we think it still is a classic gin, but with a twist! As mentioned, two of the main blends are very classical, with one solely of juniper, and one with bitter oranges, coriander, ginger and quince. It is important for us that all our gins are still gins, but that they set themselves apart too.

We’re seeing a lot of growth over the past year – in your opinion, how well is your brand developing internationally and how many countries are you in now?

The beginning of last year was a classic second year for a start up business: year one we introduced the product onto the market and had a great reaction, Year two we started to implement, organise and grow, but faced problems with our global distribution. Now we are back in charge, and yes, growing at a fast rate! By the end of 2017 we will have grown from just Oliver and Iris (other wise known as the Producer’s Wife and the Producer’s Wife’s Husband) to a team of five, working in 20 different markets. The step out of Europe and into Asia will be the biggest step for us yet, and with the new distillery up and running we believe that volumes will rocket.

Other than having a distillery of your own – what’s the big milestone for 2017?

Well, we are launching a completely new brand!